NEWPORT, Wales The rain, drenching and cold, didn't delay the Ryder Cup. No, it was the waterlogged course.
The course here, Celtic Manor, looks like a green carpet laid down in a valley. In fact, that's what it is. It quickly became unplayable Friday morning, with water oozing up with every careful step.
On the edges of the course, spectators were trudging through mud in golf shoes and knee-high rubber boots and golf carts were rolling through the thick stuff, turning black tires brown. Nobody even managed to make the turn before play was stopped.
Phil Mickelson took off his two golf gloves he was wearing one on each hand and hung them out to dry. Before long, there were ponds on the greens and little rivers running through the fairways. Only one group got even halfway to the halfway house. There was no girl in short shorts tending her hot dog cart, not on this day.
Wales is rainy. In late September, it's especially rainy. Wales is a beautiful, rugged country loaded with spirited people, many of whom surely have impressive collections of "waterproofs" in their mudrooms at home. The European Tour's move, to bring the Ryder Cup to Wales, was admirable. The rain, which likely means we'll do well to finish on Monday, is just bad luck. It rains in Spain. It rains in Louisville, Ky. Ever been to Dublin, Ohio? It rains there, too.
What the suspended play really shows is greed. In the quest to wring every last pound out of golf's biggest event, the European Tour has brought the Ryder Cup to the highest bidder the last two times out, four years ago in Ireland and this year in Wales. Ignored along the way are the traditional golfing values that have made golf in the British Isles so special in the first place.
In 2006, the Ryder Cup was played at The K Club, outside Dublin, a beautiful, plush, over-the-top resort with a soggy course that would be right at home in the American Midwest. It was a wasted opportunity to really show the world traditional Irish golf. Portmarnock, for instance, a seaside links in Dublin, on the Irish Sea.
This year, the Ryder Cup is at Celtic Manor, outside Cardiff, a beautiful, plush, over-the-top resort with a soggy course that would be right at home in the American Midwest. It was a wasted opportunity to really show the world traditional Welsh golf. Royal Porthcawl, for instance, a seaside links outside Cardiff, on the Bristol Channel.
Porthcawl, where Tiger Woods played in the Walker Cup in 1995, is about 30 miles from Celtic Manor. On Friday, mid-day, with play suspended at Celtic Manor, 50 or 60 golfers, many of them American, were still going at it, through the rain, at Porthcawl.
"The golfers are out there with their little bags," said Nicola Evans, the wife of Peter Evans, the club's longtime head professional. A caddie called into the pro shop, looking for a rain jacket for one of his players. It was wet, but the course was totally playable.
"I wouldn't want to say anything that would jeopardize in any way what's going on at Celtic Manor," said Peter Evans. "But our course is open for play."
He explained why, and in so doing he explained why seaside golf in the British Isles is the great experience it is. "The ground here has evolved over many centuries of wind blowing sand," he said. "Underneath our fairways are four to six feet of sand. It drains very well. You'll have a puddle here or there, but that's about it. The breeze off the Channel dries it out, too. We've had people turn in today because of discomfort, but not because the course was unplayable."
There's an accepted "wisdom" that a course like Porthcawl doesn't have the infrastructure to support an event as big as the Ryder Cup. Well, the British Open manages to do just fine at the Old Course once every five years or so. The U.S. Open is going to tiny Merion in 2013, in part to show that bigger is not always better.
Inside the cozy confines at century-old Royal Porthcawl, in the so-called Common Room, the club has recently installed a flat screen TV. Nobody was paying much attention to it on Friday. The Ryder Cup (and its rain-day reporting) is on Sky Sports 1 here, a cable channel the club was not willing to pay for. "We do have it on the radio," the head pro said.
Peter Evans uses a pronoun when discussing his course. Do you think anybody is going to do that when discussing Celtic Manor?
"She's an old lady," he said. "She can be mean, or she can be kind. She can have a cupboard full of food, or nothing at all for you." By that he means gentle and calm one day, or one hour, and blowy and cold and rainy another.
In any event, she was open. The players played right through the rain, making a hard game harder. All part of the fun.